Chris Paul and the ruination of the Houston Rockets

The Point God put the Rockets on ice in Game 6, and can toss Houston into instant turmoil with one more win for the Thunder.

Good morning. Let’s basketball.

Let’s start off by noting that in many ways the Houston Rockets are already in turmoil, and as soon as their season ends, whenever it ends, upheaval is expected. Mike D’Antoni (and his agent) had a public spat with the franchise last summer over a contract extension; there are rumors the Indiana Pacers fired Nate McMillan in preparation of giving D’Antoni the bag once the Rockets officially cut him loose.

But coaching changes are not rare in the NBA, especially for teams considered potential title contenders who lose in the first round. If the Rockets really lose to the Thunder — OKC forced a Game 7 with an ice cold Chris Paul performance late — after making the Russell Westbrook trade, the tumult will go much wider.

Daryl Morey notably did not receive much vocal support from his boss Tilman Fertitta amid the Hong Kong tweet imbroglio. Morey inked a long, lucrative extension about 18 months ago, and Fertitta is broke. But if the Rockets lose to the team that Morey traded CP3 to with draft assets for Westbrook, all bets are off. With Donald Sterling gone, Fertitta is definitely the NBA franchise owner most likely to try to fire his high-profile general manager for cause to save some money. (James Dolan just pays them to go away. I’m not sure Fertitta can afford to do that.)

It’s difficult to overstate how painful a loss to CP3 and the Thunder would be for James Harden, for Westbrook, for Morey, for the Rockets. To recap, CP3 and Harden did not get along all that well, and given that Morey had given CP3 an enormous contract at age 33 the summer after the Rockets took the peak Warriors to seven games, Houston was going to need to take back an onerous contract to move the Point God. Westbrook had an onerous contract and a close relationship to Harden; really, it was a natural fit. But OKC’s Sam Presti played hardball (CP3’s contract looked worse at the time due to age and injuries) and extracted these assets in the deal: a 2021 pick swap option, a 2024 first round pick, a 2025 pick swap option and a 2026 first round pick. These are all protected only in the top four.

If you make a trade like that, dealing four future assets for a contract that’s a year longer … and you immediately get eliminated in the first round by the team you made the deal with … that’s a bad, bad situation, folks. And as CP3 showed us in the final four minutes of Monday’s Game 6, it’s totally plausible.

As Houston picked up an advantage and the lead midway through the fourth quarter, CP3 picked up a technical foul with 4:19 left. The Harden make made the score 98-92 Houston, Rockets with the ball. The Rockets should put the game from there. But then CP3 hit back to back threes in Robert Covington’s eye while Westbrook melted down with two ugly turnovers and an airballed 20-footer on the other. CP3 picked up a steal on one of the Westbrook TOs and another on a busted Harden play. CP3 also drew a foul on Covington moving to the hoop, and hit the go-ahead free throws.

Outside of a buzzer beating game winner, you can’t draw up a worse scenario for Houston: the dude they traded outplayed everyone while the dude they traded for melted.

Now Westbrook is coming back from injury and looks a little rusty. But part of the rationale Houston offered for making the deal with all those sweeteners was that CP3 is more often injured. Yet here is 35-year-old Chris Paul, fit and victorious.

And, for the record, CP3 is also not passing up an opportunity to rub a little bit of cayenne pepper in the wound.

Houston is a high variance team, which helps you as an underdog but represents enormous danger as a favorite. Nothing is ever really off the table on a game-to-game basis for the Rockets. This week, that means potentially losing a Game 7 to Chris Paul. Yikes.

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Scores

WNBA

Sky 100, Fever 77 — Incredible moment for Courtney Vandersloot, who broke the record for most assists in a game … on a pass to her wife Allie Quigley for a three. She set the new record at 18 with another assist to Quigley. Vandersloot has been excellent all season; this is a fitting achievement for that.

The record was held by Ticha Penicheiro and stood for 18 years. Long live the Monarchs.

Sparks 78, Lynx 96 — NAPHEESA COLLIER. Huge win for Minnesota in the playoff chase. Another great game for rook Crystal Dangerfield, dueling with the excellent Chelsea Gray.

NBA

Heat 115, Bucks 104 (MIA leads 1-0) — Some blessed Goran Dragic action throughout the game, prime Bam Adebayo defensive effort and, of course, a huge night from Jimmy Butler, who had 40 points on 13/20 shooting and got Joel Embiid tweeting all forlorn. The Heat shot 39 percent on threes. That’s going to be a bad sign for the Bucks if it continues. The margins look tight in this series.

Rockets 100, Thunder 104 (Series tied 3-3)

Schedule

Here’s the Tuesday schedule, including the two greatest words in the English language: GAME SEVEN. All times Eastern.

Celtics vs. Raptors, Game 2, 5:30 p.m., ESPN (BOS leads 1-0)
Sun vs. Liberty, 7 p.m., CBS Sports Network
Fever vs. Dream, 8 p.m., Facebook
Jazz vs. Nuggets, GAME 7, 8:30 p.m., ABC (Series tied 3-3, duh)
Mercury vs. Aces, 10 p.m., Facebook

Links

Sterling Brown reflects on the Bucks’ protest.

Hey, Secret Base is here! Cool! And they have a new series called Overlap, here’s the first episode on Magic and Penny.

Marc Spears on the real prize players receive for winning the first round: family in the bubble. Related:

David Thorpe in TrueHoop on the bubble and mental mistakes. ($)

Woj reports that the Bulls coaching search involves assistant coaches still in the playoffs including Darvin Ham, Wes Unseld Jr. and Miami’s Dan Craig. Interesting that Chicago is focused in on younger names (Kenny Atkinson, Ime Udoka, Jamahl Mosley and Stephen Silas are also on the list).

Michael Pina on Kemba Walker off a double screen.

Here’s David Aldridge on John Thompson in The Athletic. ($)

The impact John Thompson had on NBA coaches. This story about Thompson calling in D.C.’s most notorious drug kingpin and telling him to stay tf away from Georgetown players is incredible.

More Boban Marjanovic stories from Tim Cato in The Athletic. ($)

Be excellent to each other.